Coping with Emotional Trauma: How to Sit with Painful Feelings

Emotional trauma doesn’t have to define us.

Many of us have experienced or been witness to terrible things. Those things stick with us as memories. Then, they create patterns that carry into our present-day lives.

A lot of us don’t want to deal with these painful feelings. We figure that the past is the past, and so we want to just move on.

However, ignoring or minimizing past trauma just makes things worse. In fact, the only way to move beyond the trauma is to sit with those difficult feelings and process them on an emotional level.

When we learn to be with pain, we open ourselves to a greater experience of all other emotions as well.

Opening Up to All Feelings

Emotional trauma cuts us off from many of our feelings. Consequently, in an effort to protect ourselves, we go numb.

Sometimes we do this by choice. We use drugs, alcohol, over-work, and other unhealthy coping tools to numb the pain.

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Other times, the trauma itself causes the numbness because trauma impacts the brain. PTSD is often accompanied with an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, but a third reaction is that the body may simply freeze.

We go numb to avoid painful feelings. Sadly, this also leads to a numbing of all of our other feelings.

However, those feelings bring richness to the human experience. Humans have a great capacity to experience a range of emotions. Therefore, learning to sit with your painful feelings also opens you up to the most pleasurable ones.

How can you do this?

Getting Help with Emotional Trauma

As you may know from your own experience, learning to sit with painful feelings isn’t easy. That’s why you can benefit from getting help through professional therapy.

After all, you don’t want to flood yourself with pain the first time that you sit down!

Instead, with the help of a therapist, you can learn skills to take your pain in slowly and have great compassion for your vulnerability, as you peel back the layers of hurt. In fact, a skilled therapist mindfully works with you on your most challenging emotions in order to make them manageable.

Mindfulness for Emotional Trauma

closeup of leaves with dew drops Mindfulness is a fancy buzzword, but all that it really means is that you focus on the present moment. After experiencing trauma, you tend to wallow in past experiences. In contrast, you may get anxious anticipating possible outcomes.

With the past and present constantly intruding on the present, there are simply too many emotions at play. You can get confused about your feelings.

Focusing on the present, though, will allow you to gain insight into what you actually feel right now. A therapist can help with focusing techniques, including body movements, breathing, and identifying emotions.

 

Accepting Your Emotions

Many of us have learned to discount our emotions. We may learn this in childhood. Emotional trauma often compounds that. Hence, in denying our feelings, we often make them bigger than they need to be.

However, if you can learn to identify your complex, painful feelings, then you can learn to validate them.

It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling!

You don’t have to act out because of your feelings. You can simply allow them to be. Accepting emotions helps you see that they are valid, but also that they are temporary. This makes it easier to sit with those feelings that are painful.

Learning to Trust Again

One byproduct of emotional trauma is that we lose trust. We lose our sense of safety in the world. And we lose trust in ourselves.

But when you work through your most difficult feelings, you rebuild a sense of trust in your own ability to cope with whatever life has to offer. You learn to trust that life can be filled with joy, excitement, and rich experiences. And you begin to believe that you have what it takes to feel the full range of your emotions.

Many people aren’t sure what trauma therapy includes. Learn more about my approach to trauma therapy.

2018-09-05T22:37:22+00:00

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